In the historic center of Rome, there’s a tiny side-street which tourists sometimes visit because it’s lined with jewelry shops. Many of them fail even to notice the nondescript facade of a church which tends to blend right in with all the other buildings–and that’s a shame, because it houses the tomb of an extremely interesting saint!
Vincent Pallotti (1795-1850) was the son of noble Roman parents, and so he could have done whatever he wanted with his life. He chose to become a priest, but not because he was anxious for a glittering ecclesiastical career. No, Vincent decided that he wanted to dedicate his life to helping the poor of the city of Rome.
After his ordination, Father Vincent had been made a professor at one of Rome’s most prestigious universities, but that didn’t last long. Instead, he resigned and threw himself full-time into attending to the spiritual and material needs of his fellow Romans. Vincent founded the “Society of the Catholic Apostolate,” which most people today have never heard of–because its members are now known simply as the Pallottines. Vincent knew that working-class folks often embarked on a life of crime not so much because they were evil, but because they lacked the skills necessary to support themselves in an honest trade. He therefore established small trade-schools here in the city, to teach the poor how to make shoes, tend gardens, and sew clothes–all with a view to their eternal salvation. His view was that if you have a good job, why would you want to become a criminal?
Vincent also worked to ensure that the poor frequented the sacraments and knew their faith, and made great efforts to promote family harmony. This image of the “Mother of Divine Love” was one that Vincent often carried with him, and he found that through God’s grace, it was efficacious in restoring peace between family members.
A larger version of this image hangs today in the church operated by the Pallottines, where St. Vincent’s body is enshrined under the altar. The relatively few tourists who notice the church and venture inside will agree that it’s very lovely, but when they only give it a quick glance they can often entirely miss the tomb of the founder, right there in the center:
And when they do notice the saint’s remains in their glass case, it frequently gives them quite a start! They have no idea who he was or why he’s there … or even what it is exactly that they’re looking at:
St. Vincent’s bones are dressed in priestly vestments, and his head and hands are enclosed in bronze. The face is a good likeness of what the saint actually looked like in life. This noble Roman threw away the luxurious life that was his for the taking, in order to “enter by the narrow gate,” and today, the Church honors him for giving it instead to God, by working for the good of souls.